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Hops, or Hype? Guinness Nitro IPA

Reading Time: 4 minutes read

Full disclosure: I got my two cans of this beer from a public relations company. They did not pay me to write the review, nor did I allow the free-ness of the samples to influence my opinion of the beer. There, now I’ve told you.

I’d been anticipating the arrival of my samples cans for a couple of weeks, and was excited to find them on my doorstep last Wednesday afternoon. After giving the beer some time to chill, Ben pulled out his camera, I grabbed my notebook, and we sat down to find out if the stuff is any good.

Tasting notes

guinnitro-2Meagan: Poured into Spiegelau beer tulips (they really are as nice as I’ve heard), at approximately 40 degrees, Fahrenheit.

At 5.8% ABV, it’s fairly average strength for an English IPA, with a noticeable mix of New and Old World hops, including mild citrus notes from the Cascade.

The color and appearance are exactly what you’d expect from an English IPA; a head of thick, pillow-y white fluff sits atop an ale that is the rich, warm hue of Grade A Medium Amber maple syrup.

Thanks to the nitrogenation, the head is especially thick and creamy. It clings to the glass beautifully, leaving long, lacy legs.guinnitro-5

Taking a whiff, I get malt, with some fruity and toasty notes, and a distinctive hop aroma. It’s brewed with five different hops, and other than the Cascade, I have trouble identifying them from the nose. However, a full-page advert on the back of the latest Beer Advocate issue says it’s got Admiral, Topaz, Celeia, Challenger, and Cascade.

As expected, the mouthfeel is quite smooth and creamy. Yes, I know. That’s what nitro does.

Despite the blend of hops, this is definitely not an American IPA; the taste is very much a classic English IPA, except a bit hoppier, to please modern palates. It has a dry, malty backbone; not as caramel-y as Scottish versions, such as Twisted Thistle.

Ben: Fruity, toasty, hops, malt. No CO2 notes.

Flavor is 100% English, on cask IPA. Tastes like a hand-pumped real ale, without the extra fruitiness you get from a cask. Can I have some more, sir?

More hoppy and assertive than I expected. Strange; that’s twice in one week that I have had a better experience than I expected with beer.

guinnitro-3Specifically, it’s toasty, with something like a dry Maris Otter or Golden Promise malt backbone. And something toastier…Victory? Biscuit? English Crystal? Whatever it is, it’s in there (later, the above-mentioned ad reveals that it is indeed crystal). Also, the lack of CO2 doesn’t hide the alcohol. No boozy notes, but you can tell that it has some alcohol. As a more accessible English-style IPA, I’m very happy with it. If it’s priced like Guinness Stout, I might add it into my regular drinking.

It’s Irish, dammit!

Guinness Nitro IPA is brewed at Saint James Gate, in Dublin, and imported by Diageo. And while, as I mentioned in a post last year, Diageo is a London-based company, they’re not SAB Miller or AB InBev (how about that crazy merger, anyway?). Diageo don’t seem to be indifferent to beer, nor are they obviously trying to crush all of their competition. Ben put it pretty well: “That’s the real problem I have with those American beer giants; they are breweries that seem to be anti-beer. And that’s just wrong.”

Guinness Nitro IPA is a successful example of a hoppy cask ale, and would probably do well if judged as an English IPA. As Ben noted, “It would get some of those je ne sais quoi points in a competition; for me, at least.”guinnitro-4

Neither Ben nor I are very familiar with Irish Pale Ales, per se, and therefore can’t compare this Guinness IPA to them. I am aware that O’Hara’s brews an Irish Pale Ale, but haven’t tried it yet. So, though the provenance is Irish, the closest thing I have to compare it to is English styles.

But, nitro?

guinnitro 1Neither of us are fond of the trend toward nitro, but in Guinness Stout, it makes sense. Likewise, it works in their IPA. The nitro doesn’t detract from the classic English-style IPA flavor, but if you’re looking for any kind of American pale ale experience, this isn’t it. Ben describes it thus: “This is not a palate-searing West Coast IPA, or an I-wish-we-had-gotten-behind-craft-beer-sooner East Coast IPA.”

As it warms to room temperature, I still can’t find any flaws. Nitro and Irish beer are an entirely appropriate combination, and it’s nice to see Guinness innovating. How snobby would it be to tell them, “No, don’t innovate; leave that to American ‘craft’ brewers. You just stick to stout.”

Having heard a couple of negative things from other beer enthusiasts, I was entirely prepared to give this ale a terrible review. But it’s actually rather good, and I’d like to drink some more of it. According to the Guinness website, the Nitro IPA should be available in several Rochester-area stores, including Wegmans.

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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